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Clients and Customers. Who needs 'em?

I can often be heard, and indeed have something of a reputation for, talking about relationships. Now, before you get excited, this isn’t that sort of article. Sorry. No, the relationships I’m referring to here, are those with your clients/customers or your potential clients/customers. I’ll get on to your relationships with your colleagues and staff later, and leave those other relationship conversations out altogether for now.

I often get talking to business owners about customer care, and I’m always fascinated to hear their take on it. More often than not, they don’t prioritise it. And more often than not, they think it’s an expensive thing to do. But oh, how wrong they are on both counts. Think of the expense and effort attached to finding new customers. The expensive thing to do, is to not prioritise customer care. Confused? I hope not. Let me attempt to get clear by giving you a few extremely recent great examples.

Within just the last seven days, I’ve had occasion to experience both exceptionally good and exceptionally bad customer care. Let me explain. I needed new tyres…groan. Not very exciting but extremely necessary, particularly as I’d left it way too long and storm Dylan was apparently gathering strength. So, off I trotted to join the sizeable queue at the local tyre replacement centre run by two brothers in their 20’s. I’ve been going there for my tyres since their father owned the business and they were in short pants. Actually, I don’t think boys wear short pants much these days, but you get the idea. Why have I been giving them my business for so long? Not because they’re the cheapest. Not because they’re the most efficient – they could definitely improve their system and process, but that’s incidental. I give them my business because they care, and because they demonstrate that they care. It’s always a long wait. Well, they’re popular. But while I wait, I get a cup of coffee handed to me straight away. They’re courteous, respectful and always go the extra mile. They work long long hours, out in all weathers all year round and it’s incredibly physically demanding work. But they never lose patience and never lose their smile. That counts.

On this particular visit, as I waited, it occurred to me I’d better get my locking wheel nut ready for them to remove my alloy wheels. Oh no!!!! It wasn’t where it was meant to be. Where it always is. Yikes. The boys did their best to help find a solution while I racked my tiny brain. Where could it be? Ah yes, it dawned on me. In the summer I had my break pads replaced at Williams BMW. Could they have it? I called them but at the back of my mind, I was convinced they wouldn’t want to know. It was months ago. How could I prove that’s the last place I saw it? And why would a national company like Williams give a damn about my bloomin’ locking wheel nut? A lovely lady buy the name of Debbie was very sympathetic but didn’t sound very hopeful, offering to “check it out” and “call back”. Yeah, right. Like she was going to call me back on December 30th when they were on skeleton staff and getting ready to shut down for new year. But, she did call me back. “Call in” she said, “and we might be able to help.” Slightly sceptical but encouraged by the positive outcome so far, off I trotted, still expecting little. When I arrived, I was greeted by Scott in Sales who could not have been nicer or more helpful. He took me to the coffee area, made me a pretty decent latte, offered a seasonal mince pie and gave me a comfy seat while he went to find Debbie and manager Josh. Off they went with my key and less than 20 minutes later, returned with a matching locking wheel nut. If I hadn’t managed to remind myself it was completely inappropriate, I could cheerfully have given all three of them a huge bear hug. Who’d have thought it. A huge business like Williams not only doing something for nothing, but going above and beyond to do it.

Now, in the interest of balance, accepting the theories of yin and yang, where there’s light there’s day and all that, I have to tell you about my other experience. I know you’ve been waiting with baited breath. Well it’s Christmas. I was hungry and didn’t want to cook. All that lying around watching movies and repeats of Mrs Browns Boys and Morccambe and Wise Christmas specials, left me with limited motivation when it came to whipping up some culinary delight, so the other half and I decided to hit the local country pub for some good grub. It was busy. Obviously, I wasn’t the only one lacking kitchen related motivation. So, I approached the bar and asked the young lady behind the bar “Any chance of a table for two?”. With hardly an upward glance, she muttered, “If you can find a table.” in a decidedly dismissive manner. “Oh, ok” says I, “Anywhere?” “Yes”, says she, looking at me in a way that I could tell she thought I’d been sent to test her. So, after a quick recce around the pub, I went back to let her know “We’ll be sitting in the back area. Can we have a couple of menus please?” She shot me a horrified glance. “You can’t sit in there. That’s only for groups of six or more.” Grrrr. So, what do you think ‘other half’ and I did next? And what do you think we will do next time we get a hankering for some good pub grub? Spot on. Right, we won’t go there. But, worse than that, if friends and family ask us to recommend somewhere, do you think we’ll recommend that place? By the way, I’m sparing them a public critique because when the dust settles, I may just give them a second chance. Maybe you think I’m being a little unfair. She was only a member of staff after all, right? Wrong. She’s a representative of the owners/managers. Representative of their customer care policy. Representative of their level of staff training.

In both examples of the incredible positive customer care experiences I described, what they did cost? Absolutely nothing in monetary terms. The investment was in the training, in developing the mission of the business and in the attitude of those delivering the service. But in all three examples, there most definitely is a ‘bottom line’ impact. In the case of DM Tyres Oldham, a small family owned business and Williams BMW Rochdale, not only am I likely to continue to give them my business for years to come, but I will wholeheartedly recommend them whenever an appropriate opportunity arises. In the case of the country pub, not only am I unlikely to return, but I’m not likely to recommend them to anyone else. In a time when pubs, even pubs that offer good food and good service, are closing at a rate of 27 a week, that is bound to have an impact on their bottom line.

So, whether you own, direct, manage or run an organisation. Whether you have a cast of thousands, are a small business, an entrepreneur or even a freelancer, you need your clients/customers right? And you’re busy, right? So keeping your clients rather than having to chase new ones would be a bonus. Agreed? Of course. So, here’s what you need. A simple but clear customer care plan. And here’s what you need to do next. Communicate it consistently. To your clients, your potential clients, your staff, your associates. In fact, communicate it everywhere and to everyone you can at every opportunity. Good stuff spreads like wildfire. And, if you can, appoint a customer care ambassador in your business. If your business is just you, that’s super simple. It’s YOU.

Still think it’s expensive to do customer care well? Mhmm, maybe you need to re read this article. Think it takes up too much time? Well, yes, it does take time but that’s a small investment in your bottom line isn’t it? Still think you don’t have the time to do it properly yourself? Get someone else to do it. Someone who know what they’re doing. And remember, one of my favourite quotes - as you’d probably expect from a long time business coach who’s passionate about doing things right to get things done - “If you think it’s expensive to hire an expert, wait ‘til you hire an amateur”.

CAVIAT: Great customer care doesn’t mean the customer is always right. It doesn’t mean you always say “yes” and it doesn’t mean you have to bend over backwards. It just means setting your own customer care mission, committing to it and communicating it.

Enjoy the process and watch with joy as it hits your bottom line.

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